Film on the massive internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II.
The film tries to reassure the viewer that the conditions in the camps are not too "soft" -- that the Japanese Americans there have to work hard and actually provide for many of their own needs, costing the taxpayer as little as possible. It also takes pains to describe the internees as involved in community activities like the Boy Scouts, Red Cross and church-going. It makes the point several times that internees are mostly loyal to America, but that the potential threat they pose is being dealt with appropriately. There is also footage of Japanese American fighting units in training. Hart Mountain, Wyoming
Ken Smith sez: This weird film -- the U.S. government's view of life inside its World War II Japanese-American internment camps -- is an early exercise in political damage control. One of its more enjoyable aspects is its baldfaced use of pleasant-sounding euphemisms to recast the nasty things it shows us.
"The people are not under suspicion," the narrator informs us, as we see Japanese-Americans being herded onto trains. "They are not prisoners. They are not internees. They are merely dislocated people." He adds, "Their evacuation did not imply individual disloyalty but was ordered to reduce a military hazard." As the camera pans past armed guards in watchtowers and chain-link fences topped with barbed wire, we are told that these are simply "symbols of the military nature of the evacuation."
This confusing clash between what we see and what we're told continues throughout the film; sometimes the narration is nice and the visuals are nasty, sometimes it's the other way around. For example, we're shown the industrious internees growing their own food (they had to, we're informed, or else they'd starve) on "lands that had never been occupied or farmed." But then we're told that none of the surplus was allowed onto the open market. "Those who work are paid," we're informed, and we see smiling internees collecting their paychecks -- but then the narrator adds that "wages, by outside standards, are low," and gives us the particulars: Twelve to nineteen dollars a month (the latter for doctors). "Most have had to draw on their savings to live as they would like to."
Next, we're shown a series of location shots of internee beauty queens, boys scouts and baseball games, while the narrator blandly admits that the Japanese-Americans had to dip into their savings accounts (again) to fund such activities. "The government does not provide money for purely recreational purposes," we're told, matter-of-factly (Perhaps the War Relocation Authority was trying to have it both ways -- producing a film that would appease both proponents and opponents of internment? Politicians may advance through compromise, but it makes for a messy film).
We're told that in 1943, many of the internees were let out of the camps temporarily -- to perform grunt-labor harvest work on surrounding farms (some of which the internees had previously owned). "Most of the people returned to the centers," notes the narrator, which isn't surprising. However, he adds, "The War Relocation Authority has been more concerned with PERMANENT relocation. Getting the evacuees out of the BACKWATER of the relocation centers, into the mainstream of American life." The narrator reminds us that the WRA wants to speed Japanese-American resettlement "so their labor can help to win the war, so the cost to the taxpayer may be reduced," and "so there may be no question of the constitutionality of any part of the action taken by the government."
We see a hand leafing through a "Leave Clearance Docket" (it's packed with over thirty pages of forms), while the narrator reassures us that "only those evacuees whose statements and whose acts leave NO QUESTION OF THEIR LOYALTY to the United States are permitted to leave" (a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach that was later adopted by Joseph McCarthy). Now the film becomes optimistic, treating us to dozens of staged shots of smiling Japanese-Americans toiling in Midwest factories. "American flags -- some of them for the armed forces -- are turned out by Mrs. Yoshia Abi," the narrator informs us. "She hopes that one of the flags she makes some day may be carried in triumph down the streets of Tokyo!" And, "Henry Logoro used to be a farmer in Fresno, California. From the Jerome relocation camp he moved to the Midwest -- to make marshmallows!"
The film ends with footage of a Japanese-American combat team in training. "They know what they're fighting for!" the narrator declares. In case we're not quite sure what that is at this point, he describes it as "The American ideals that are part of their upbringing. Democracy. Freedom. Equality of opportunity. Regardless of race, creed, or ancestry!" It doesn't matter that what we've just seen violates every one of those principles. This was a challenge to democracy, not a triumph of it.
aerials of barracks; military police; construction of living spaces by internees. mess hall; schools; general store;
clearing desert brush by hand. building irrigation ditches, plowing and planting. farming; laying water mains; medical shots; dentists; elections for camp government; court administered by internees; baseball and softball games; football. Church services; internees painting; Boy Scouts; U.S.O. Club (to provide entertainment for Japanese American soldiers who come to visit their families in the camps.) Red Cross; Campfire Girls; Harvest festival parade including floats;
sign: Vote for Sam Nagata for Councilman
many shots of Japanese Americans working in a wide variety of professions: as farmers; machine operators, nurses; telephone linemen etc.
many people are identified by their full names and have their lives before and during the war described by the narrator.
Japanese Americans internment relocation World War II WWII race racism
"Evacuation: more than 100,000 men, women and children all of Japanese ancestry removed from their homes in the Pacific coast states to wartime communities established in out-of-the-way places. Their evacuation did not imply individual disloyalty, but was ordered to reduce a military hazard at a time when danger of invasion was great. Two-thirds of the evacuees are American citizens by right of birth. The rest are their Japanese-born parents and grandparents. The evacuees are not under suspicion. They are not prisoners. They are not internees. They are merely dislocated people. The unwounded casualties of war."
"Each family, upon arrival at a relocation center was assigned to a single room compartment about 20 X 25 feet. Barren, unattractive, a stove, a light bulb, cots, mattresses and blankets. Those were the things provided by the government. The family's own furniture was in storage on the West Coast."
"Those who work are paid. Wages by outside standards are low. Twelve dollars a month for beginners. Sixteen dollars a month for most of the workers and nineteen dollars a month for professional people such as doctors."
"Some of the teachers [in camp schools] are Caucasian. Some are evacuees, Americans of Japanese ancestry."
"Evacuee doctors and nurses serve in the hospitals, under the supervision of Caucasians."
"The evacuees have a form of community self-government, which aids the appointed officials in administration of the community. "
"A judicial commission sits in judgment on minor offenses. Attorneys among the evacuees represent the prosecution and the defense. A serious crime would be tried in the regular courts outside the center. The crime rate among people of Japanese ancestry in the United State always has been extremely low and this has proved to be the case in the centers."
"Evacuees have provided practically all of their own [sports] equipment. . . .little government money has been spent for strictly recreational purposes. "
"The relocation centers include many well-known artists."
"Most of the alien Japanese are Buddhists, but almost half their American-born children belong to some Christian denomination, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian. Except for state-Shinto, involving Emperor worship, there is no restriction on religion in relocation centers."
"While they have many things in common with ordinary American communities, in the really important things relocation centers are not normal and probably never can be. Home life is disrupted. Eating, living and working conditions are abnormal. Training of children is difficult. Americanism, taught in the schools and churches and on the playgrounds, loses much of its meaning in the confines of a relocation center. When the War Relocation Authority was only a few months old it was decided that relocation centers should not be maintained any longer than necessary."
[some Japanese Americans were permitted to leave the camps before the end of the war. there is a discussion of how these people were chosen and the possible unconstitutionality of the relocation, also much footage]
"Relocation of evacuees is not being carried out at the expense of national security. Only those evacuees whose statements and whose acts leave no question of their loyalty to the United States are permitted to leave."
"American flags, some of them for the armed forces, are turned out by Mrs. Yoshii Abe [sp.?]. She hopes that one of the flags she makes someday maybe be carried in triumph down the streets of Tokyo."
"The Americanism of the great majority of America's Japanese finds its highest expression in the thousands who are in the United States Army, almost half of them are in a Japanese American combat team. . . .Hundreds of them volunteered while they were in relocation centers. . . .They know what they're fighting against and they know what they're fighting for -- their country and for the American ideals that are part of their upbringing -- democracy, freedom, equality of opportunity regardless of race, creed, or ancestry. "